Man or a mouse

Few things amuse me more than pointing out to people how predictable we humans are. Our imprinted view of ourselves as almost not a part of the animal kingdom is of course very arrogant. Our animal-like behavior is however often quite apparent and one of the best examples is in crowd movement. Pictures from malls and crowded streets often eerily resemble ants working mindlessly in their colony.

Nature Science Update reports yesterday on the use of mice to simulate people trying to escape in a panic situation. The research, conducted by Caesar Saloma and colleagues at the University of the Philippines is studying escaping mice to help improve computer models of escape in panic situations.

This is a very real and worthwhile problem to work on, as a stampeding crowd is often the cause for the majority of deaths and injuries in emergency situations. And if you are thinking that mice will not be good models because they are less intelligent than we are, think again:

    Faced with a narrow door, mice form a kind of queue and make a relatively orderly escape, they find. Wider doors cause the animals to block one another, making their getaway sporadic and inefficient. Escape is also erratic when there are several doors, as crowds around one can obstruct the next.
    Like us, mice fleeing from life-threatening danger look for the exit and make for it, pushing others aside if necessary. What’s more, like panicking humans, the animals tend to follow one another rather than assessing the best exit route.

Panic probably evokes our primitive instincts, seemingly a good idea, rather than having us ponder about the best solution while the danger further heightens.

Pedestrian movement research at UCL

One comment

  1. Some of the more interesting research on human behaviour has been done by Magns Magnsson at Patternvision and the University of Iceland. Check out their web site. Interestingly, the pattern analysis that they perform have proven to be applicable for many other purposes, – not just human behaviour, but for general pattern detection.

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